Trends in economic research

Cardoso and co have another interesting paper. Here’s the abstract:

Given the recent efforts in several countries to reorganize the research institutional setting to improve research productivity, our analysis addresses the following questions: To which extent has the recent awareness over international quality standards in economics around the world been reflected in research performance? How have individual countries fared? Do research quantity and quality indicators tell us the same story? We concentrate on trends taking place since the beginning of the 1990s and rely on a very comprehensive database of scientific journals, to provide a cross-country comparison of the evolution of research in economics. Our findings indicate that Europe is catching up with the US but, in terms of
influential research, the US maintains a dominant position. The main continental European countries, Germany, France, Italy and Spain, experienced some of the largest growth rates in economic scientific output. Other European countries, namely the UK, Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden, have shown remarkable progress in per capita output. Collaborative research seems to be a key factor explaining the relative success of some European countries, in particular when it comes to publishing in top journals, attained predominantly through international collaborations.

Unfortunately, they did not include Ireland.

Performance of labour PhDs

Cardoso and colleagues have a new paper in Scientometrics, comparing the performance of PhDs in labour economics graduating from Europe and the USA. They find that European PhDs publish more, but US PhDs publish more in high-quality journals (according to Kalaitzidakis).

UPDATE: Freely accessible working paper version.

Set them free (not)

Lucey and Larkin offer some thoughts on higher education reform. I either agree (evaluation, performance-related pay, fees) or do not know enough to have an opinion (curriculum*).

UPDATE: The Irish Times (2) has seen the report of the National Strategy Group for Higher Education. Strikes me as less radical than Lucey and Larkin.

* Clarification: I know a few anecdotes about a few courses at a few Irish universities.

Shanghai Jiao Tong University Rankings 2010

The 2010 rankings are available here, although the site is very busy.

As a semi-Dane, I am pleased to see two Danish universities in the top 100, along with a Norwegian university and a couple of Swedish ones.

TCD is in the 200-300 group, UCD in the 300-400 group.

OK, so all these rankings are to some extent silly, but at least in our field the ones repec put out are ‘order of magnitude sensible’. And given the government’s stress on the ‘knowledge economy’, and the amount of coverage the Times rankings get in Ireland, it seems worth pointing out that not all rankings show Irish universities in such a favourable light.

The Shanghai rankings have had a major influence in France, where policy makers were very shocked by how poorly French universities fared in the initial years of this index. The result was a major shake-up of the higher education sector there, with universities being given a lot more control of their budgets and hiring procedures.

New bibliometric tool

Scholarometer is a new tool to rank academics. It uses crowdsourcing to disentangle people with common names, and to attribute people to disciplines and subdisciplines. It has a widget to display your results on your homepage. And it uses the h_f index, which allows for the comparison of people across disciplines. Paul Krugman beats Stephen Jay Gould.

The Lisbon Agenda: An Assessment

The CPB has come a long way since it was founded, as the Central Planning Bureau, by Jan Tinbergen shortly after WW2. Besides giving solicited and unsolicited advice to the Netherlands Government — polite but frank — it is acquiring a similar role in Europe. Their latest publication is bafflingly in Dutch, but relevant to anyone in Europe. It is an assessment of the Lisbon Agenda.

At the beginning of the decade, European politicians promised all sorts of wonderful stuff for 2010. The CPB report wonders what came of that, comparing progress in the period 1990-2000 to the period 2000-2010.

Here’s a summary:

-Income per capita (Geary-Khamis): Economic growth in EU15 was slower after 2000 than before; ditto for Ireland; US and Australia show same pattern, but economic growth accelerated after 2000 in China, South Korea, Japan and New Zealand

-Labour participation (share population 15-65): Increase in EU15 was slower post 2000; ditto for Ireland

-R&D expenditures (share GDP): Increase in EU15 was slower post 2000; ditto for Ireland; US increase before 2000 but decline after 2000; China decline before 2000 but sharp increase after 2000; Japan and South Korea small increase before 2000 and sharp increase after 2000

+Education expenditure (share GDP): Fell in EU15 before 2000, rose after 2000; ditto for Ireland; US and China increase before and after 2000; Japan increase before 2000 but decrease after 2000

+Domestic waste (kg/cap): Rose in EU15 before 2000, fell after 2000; rose in Ireland before 2000, rose very rapidly after 2000

+Particulate matter (load): Rose in EU15 before 2000, fell after 2000; fell in Ireland before and after 2000

-Carbon dioxide (kg/cap): Fell in EU15 before 2000, stationary after 2000; rose in Ireland before 2000, fell after 2000; US, Canada, New Zealand increase before 2000 and decrease after 2000; China decrease before 2000, virtually no change since 2000; Japan increase before and after 2000

-Trust in peope: Fell in EU15 before 2000, stationary after 2000; ditto for Ireland; US, Canada, South Korea fell before 2000, rose afterwards; Japan rose before 2000, fell after 2000

+Corruption: Increased in EU15 before 2000, stationary after 2000; increased in Ireland before and after 2000; increased in US before and after 2000; increased in China before 2000 but fell after 2000; decreased in Japan before 2000 but rose after 2000

-Poverty (share of population under poverty line, before transfers): Fell in EU15 before 2000, rose after 2000; ditto for Ireland

-Poverty (share of population under poverty line, after transfers): Fell in EU15 before 2000, rose after 2000; rose in Ireland before 2000, fell after 2000

-Children in jobless families (share of population 0-17): Fell in EU15 before 2000, fell slightly after 2000; fell in Ireland before 2000, rose after 2000

That’s 8 negatives and 4 positives for EU15, and 8 negatives and 4 positives for Ireland (albeit different positives and negatives).

Kevin Denny: The Effect of Abolishing University Fees

Kevin Denny’s working paper on the effect of abolishing university fees in Ireland is available on this link


University tuition fees for undergraduates were abolished in Ireland in 1996. This paper examines the effect of this reform on the socioeconomic gradient (SES) to determine whether the reform was successful in achieving its objective of promoting educational equality. It finds that the reform clearly did not have that effect. It is also shown that the university/SES gradient can be explained by differential performance at second level which also explains the gap between the sexes. Students from white collar backgrounds do significantly better in their final second level exams than the children of blue-collar workers. The results are very similar to recent findings for the UK. I also find that certain demographic characteristics have large negative effects on school performance i.e. having a disabled or deceased parent. The results show that the effect of SES on school performance is generally stronger for those at the lower end of the conditional distribution of academic attainment.

Coleman: Obsession with PhD Economists

Marc Coleman continues to fight the good fight against the evil that is economists with PhDs. Coleman seems to be taking his campaign to a new level with his latest claim:

Academia must also change. The obsession with producing only PhDs is the main reason the crisis happened.

I read the last sentence and then started thinking of the number of ways in which it seemed to be wrong. I lost count at about five and then decided to go back to plotting the downfall of the Irish economy along with my other PhD-qualified co-conspirators.

Academic talent

Peter Sutherland may have been quoted out of context, or inaccurately, in today’s Irish Times, where it is reported that

Yesterday, Mr Sutherland was also critical of Government moves to reduce the pay of university presidents and other senior academics. Mr O’Keeffe has written to university presidents seeking a voluntary pay cut, while the Higher Education Authority has reviewed procedures which allow universities make special payments to its top academics.

Mr Sutherland called for a new flexible approach, “necessary to retain talented but highly mobile staff”.

But presumably the academics here can all agree that in the entire history of higher education, there has never been a recorded case of a talented student saying “I must get my PhD at Harvard, they have a really exciting President”, or “Oxford is the place for me, their Head of Human Resources rocks”, or “what about that VP for Research at Stanford, there’s no other option as far as I’m concerned.”

Academics — even, or perhaps especially, the opinionated ones — make universities what they are. The best students go to places like Harvard because of faculty rosters like this. VPs, Presidents and all the rest are not ‘senior academics’. They are university bureaucrats, or administrators if you prefer. In the Irish context they sometimes come up through the ranks, while sometimes they are hired in from places like the HEA.  I doubt that they are particularly mobile internationally. Paying them enormous salaries strikes me as a waste of money.

If Ireland wants to become a ‘smart economy’ it would be helpful if basic distinctions like this were kept in mind.

Quality of Irish Economics Departments: it’s neither Size nor Youth that counts

Look at

These are the economics results for the most recent Research Assessment Exercise for the UK.

The first numeric column reports the number of staff returned in the subject for each institution: UK departments are comparable in size to many Irish ones.  On the same website, one can browse to a narrative for each department: each institution is specifically required to comment on early career researchers.  Like some Irish deparments, many UK departments are also developing new talent.

Now compare their position in the Tilburg ranking   to Irish departments. 

Everyone still happy?

Depressing State of Irish Economics Departments

Tilburg has produced a ranking of economics departments for the whole world.  See .  It is based on journal publications since 2004.  The nice aspect of this website is that you can change the ranking yourself by including the journals that you like and excluding the ones that you despise.  No matter how the cookie is cut, our economics departments are abysmal.


This case is an embarrassment for DCU. But I was particularly taken by the following:

He [Mr Justice Geoghegan] said he was not entering into discussion of the other two grounds, as this would have required analysis of section 25(6) of the Universities Act 1997, dealing with the dismissal of employees by universities.

Given the unusual circumstances of this case, it was not advisable that the court should give a precise meaning to that subsection, Mr Justice Geoghegan said.

“Furthermore, any such analysis would lead to a judgment as to the meaning of the word ‘tenure’,” he added. “I am satisfied that the word ‘tenure’ has different meanings and connotations partly depending on its context and partly depending on the particular understanding as usually given to it within the country in which it is used.”

He added that it did not necessarily have the same meaning in this jurisdiction as it did in the US, where it meant permanency in a university post.

If this is not what tenure means in Ireland, then perhaps someone might want to inform the academics?

Low Quality of Irish Universities Confirmed

I’ve been patiently waiting for a response to, or even a report in Ireland of, the  publication of the 2009 Shanghai  Jiao Tong Academic Ranking of World Universities.  See  Could this possibly be a case of socioanalytic denial? 

This is by far the most widely used ranking in the world for three reasons.  It is almost impossible to ‘game’. It is used as an information tool by internationally mobile students.   It is designed to honestly assess the evolution of the relative position of Chinese Universities: we know it’s honest because they don’t score well.  

There have been enthusiastic references in the Irish media and in this blog to other university rankings.  This is because some Irish universities appear to be important in these.  But you should be suspicious: they also rank many British universities well above obviously superior US institutions.  The apparent success of some Irish Universities is a by-product of this ludicrous outcome.

Go on:  check it out.  Has the Portarlington Institute for Science and Society got the recognition it deserves?

Steven Davis on Job Creation

Greg Mankiw links to an interesting article by Chicago Economist Steven J Davis on policies to foster job creation in the US. The article is short and to the point, and is for the most part relevant to the Irish debate. It is mostly sceptical of employer subsidies and puts forward, among other things, reduction in the minimum wage and vigorous experiments with back-to-work programmes.

More University Rankings

Quantitative analysis of science and technology is  a growing research area.  There are two university rankings based on bibilometric indicators which are worth watching:

Cybermetrics Lab has this university ranking for Top 100 universities in Europe, published in July 2009. TCD is the only Irish university in this list, ranked 49th in Europe and 169th in the world ranking. In the world ranking UC Cork is 393rd and UCD is 457th. The world rank of Irish universities can be found here.

The Centre for Science and Technology Studies of the Leiden University has constructed several university rankings based on scientific output. While based on the same data and methodological background, rankings differ depending on the focus of the impact – indicators. The Leiden ranking results 2008 can be found here.

THE-QS University Rankings 2009

The new rankings are out. All Irish universities are up. TCD at 43, UCD at 89.

To pre-empt some critique: No ranking is perfect, but each imperfect ranking correlates with each other imperfect ranking. Two universities in the top 100 is not at all bad for a country that has far less than 2/100 people in the OECD, let alone the world.

Benoit and Marsh on excellence (or not)

In a paper just published in the ESR, Benoit and Marsh confirm that research excellence is measurable — even for political scientists, some of whom argue that reality is constructed. They show that research quality varies considerably. Should research budgets be cut, there is now a basis for cuts that minimise damage to quality.

Some of you will want to bitch that Benoit and Marsh feature as the numbers 1 and 3 on their own ranking. This is nonsense. The correlation between the various indices is high. The same people are top regardless of the quality measure used, and people-in-the-know already roughly knew who would do well. This exercise primarily serves the community — and the authors invested time that they could have used to publish in a more prestigious journal.

Draft submission to Innovation Task Force

The Innovation Task Force was appointed to advise the government on how to turn Ireland into an international innovation hub and to support the development of a smart economy. It’s easy to be cynical but better to be constructive. The ITF has issued a call for submissions on its terms of references:

  • to examine options to increase levels of innovation and the rates of commercialisation of research and development on a national basis with a view to accelerating the growth and scale-up of indigenous enterprise and to attract new knowledge-intensive direct investment;
  • to bring forward proposals for enhancing the linkages between institutions, agencies and organisations in the public and private sectors to ensure a cohesive innovation and commercialisation ecosystem;
  • to identify any specific policy measures which might be necessary to support the concept of Ireland as an International Innovation Development Hub including in the areas of legislation, educational policy, intellectual property arrangements, venture capital and immigration policy.

Here is my draft submission. All comments welcome. I’ll acknowledge your input by something like “A draft of this submission was posted at and substantially improved as a result of the discussion there. Comments by Malle Appie were particularly helpful.”

High wages require high labour productivity. High productivity requires excellent skills and creativity. Ireland can only maintain its position at the forefront of economic development if it fosters innovation and commercialization. Innovation is a creative process, however, and therefore cannot be mandated by government policy. The government can only create the conditions under which innovation and commercialization are likely.

Continue reading “Draft submission to Innovation Task Force”

An Bord Snip: Research

One of the recommendations of An Bord Snip Nua is to transfer all research money from the departments and agencies to a single research body.  Besides the cost savings, I see three advantages:

1. Competition for research allocation between fields (as opposed to the current earmarking of research money for someone’s pet projects)

2. Academic quality control (captive agencies occassionally grant funding to researchers of low repute but the right political colour)

3. Streamlining of applications and administration (at present, research bodies need to keep track of the rules of a range of bureaucracies)

I see two disadvantages, however:

1. Disruption: Transfer of tasks between public policy inevitably leads to chaos, and no research funding will flow for a certain period. This may lead to the destruction of human capital — that is, the good researchers may leave the country, leaving the dross behind. Continuity is therefore a high priority.

2. Applied research has a lower status, and funding will be under additional pressure from blue-skies research. The agencies and department that lose their research grants should have a substantial say in the type of research to be funded (but not, of course, select the researchers).

An Bord Snip: Education

I’m opening this strand to facilitate more specialized discussion on the cuts in Education proposed by An Bord Snip, which total €0.7 bn or 8% of the €9 billion currently spent in this area.

The proposed cuts include:

Structural efficiencies (e.g. amalgamation of some ITs and VECs).

Staffing reductions and productivity improvements
(e.g. in the area of sick leave arrangements, special needs assistants, pupil-teacher ratios, and more teaching hours)

Programme adjustments (mainstreaming of traveller education, costbrecovery of school transport, PRTLI)

The Universities: Innovation, Autonomy, Fees and Institutional Design

There has been much discussion in the press over the last few days over two issues affecting the universities: the issuing of an Employment Control Framework by the Higher Education Authority and the delivery of a report to the Minister for Education on the reintroduction of fees for undergraduate education. The two are linked because each has the potential to affect the autonomy of the universities in important ways. More broadly they raise questions of institutional design that apply also to other significant aspects of the machinery for governing the economy concerning the relative autonomy from government ministers of both state-owned enterprises and regulatory bodies. The current fiscal and financial crises are likely to put all of these relationships under pressure and beg the question whether exploiting the capacity for government to exert greater centralized control is simply opportunistic or offers a principled basis for addressing weaknesses. Let me declare at the outset that I am parti pris since, like many contributors to this blog,  I hold an academic appointment in a University.

Turning specifically to the universities the Employment Control Framework is reported by the Irish Times to impose restrictions on recruitment of new staff, promotion of existing staff and retention of temporary staff with a linkage between compliance and continuation of state funding. Although issued by the Higher Education Authority it is apparent that the Department of Education and the Department of Finance each had a significant role in shaping the document. The Framework has been widely interpreted as an attack on the autonomy of the Universities and in breach of the provisions of the Universities Act 1997. My learned friend  Steve Hedley offers his interpretation of the legal provisions here. There is discussion in the Sunday Tribune of the Irish Federation of University Teachers challenging the Framework in litigation, but in the medium term the legislation may not be important  since the government’s effective control of the Oireachtas means that legislation can be changed to give effect to the Government’s favoured position if a court rules against  it in judicial review proceedings. The more important question is the normative one whether it is advantageous to the capacities of the nation for ministers to assert more direct control over the universities through control over key staffing issues. Insofar as the position of the university heads may be ascertained it appears to be that such restrictions appear to undermine  their flexibility to determine the deployment of their resources to prioritise particular areas of research, to innovate and  to match teaching capacity to needs. Under the terms of the legislation the allocation of resources is the responsibility of the HEA, whilst prioritization is a matter for the Universities themselves. This principled separation of responsibilities has been considerably eroded in fact (but not in law) by the shift of resources away from formulaic block grant (based largely on student numbers) towards competitive awards of grants under such schemes as PRTLI, SIF and the programmes of Science Foundation Ireland and the Research Councils. Universities have been incentivised  by such competitions to shift resources into areas favoured by the government. Competition is not the only mechanism at play, since most schemes have a significant element of peer review and government deploys its hierarchical capacity to steer and approve decisions (with the potential for importing political priorities) within many of the schemes.

The discussion around the reintroduction of fees linked to a student loans scheme has the potential to affect the autonomy of the universities in the other direction, to the extent that the scheme permits the universities to grow their revenues directly through undergraduate student recruitment. The government has not yet committed to any of the variety of mechanisms which have been proposed (discussed in yesterday’s Sunday Business Post), suffice it to say that the separation of upfront fees from a loans scheme is likely to give the universities greater autonomy, whereas the linkage of additional revenue to a graduate tax is liable to give the government greater control.

The relationship between the two issues lies in the issue of funding dependence. Permitting universities to charge undergraduate fees, separate from a related loans scheme, reduces the capacity of the government to threaten funding sanctions to universities which breach government requirement s such as those set down in the Framework.

How does this all link to the Irish economy? It is widely held that the role of the universities in providing research, stimulating innovation (not only in science and technology, but also through translation of research into policy and creative domains) and in education at both undergraduate and graduate levels is relevant to Ireland’s future economic capacity (although there is disagreement on the extent of the universities’ significance). Comparative analysis demonstrates that there is no single model of university-government relations within the other OECD member states. The French government retains a high degree of central control over key aspects educational provision and academic appointments, whilst a mixed economy of public and private provision in the United States gives substantial autonomy to many higher education institutions. The UK balances substantial autonomy for the universities with a form of hyper-regulation over teaching and research quality which has never been seen in Ireland. The Irish regime under which universities are required to self-regulate explicitly (teaching) or implicitly (research) is a style which I refer to as meta-regulation. There is already a meta-regulatory alternative to the Employment Control Framework in the form of an Irish Universities Association document which caps employment numbers, but under which the control is exercised by the universities themselves.

A tangential issue arising from the Employment Control Framework is whether there is a continuing role for the Higher Education Authority if, in fact, ministers are determining conditions of grant for universities. A key aspect of the UK regime is the role of buffer organisations (such as the Higher Education Funding Council for England) which both funds and holds higher education institutions to account for their expenditure.  In a fairly similar regime of universities governance to that of the UK the Australian government abolished the buffer institution, the Australian Universities Commission, in 1976 and took its functions in funding and oversight into the education ministry. Given current strictures on public finances and controversies about the added value of quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisations (quangos) an agency that cannot demonstrate its distinctive role may be under threat.

Whilst these issues of institutional design can hardly be neutral in their effects in terms of the role of universities (and others such as state-owned enterprises and regulators) in sustaining and developing the Irish economy, we appear to have more questions than answers in the search for defensible (I would not dare suggest optimal) solutions.

Norman Glass

Readers of this blog might recall my support for the establishment of something modelled on the UK Government Economic Service.   I was sad to hear of the passing last week of a great Irish economist though perhaps one of the least known – Norman Glass – who was in many ways one of the architects of the GES.

The Guardian obituary is at

Norman was a pioneer in economics within policy circles.   He was the first economist in the UK Department of Health for example in the early 1970s.   But it was his time at the Treasury where he really made his impact, becoming in effect the Chief Microeconomist and the driver of the microeconomic revival at the Treasury during the early days of Blair and Brown particularly in the aftermath of the Bank of England independence move.  The development of the working families tax credit, the innovations in linking labour supply policy and welfare strategies, major initiatives in education and health – Norman was central to all of these moves and to the early success of the ‘New Labour’ era.   Norman also developed an interest in the early skills formation agenda, designing SureStart (and later became a vocal critic of what the UK Government did with that programme in letting it become bloated and without direction).   On retirement from the Treasury he went on to lead NatCen, perhaps the largest and best social research company in Europe.

Norman was a complete gentleman, quietly interested in what went on in Irish economics, hugely supportive of students and researchers who made contact with him.   He is also perhaps amongst the most influential Irishmen of the late 20th century, albeit also one of the most modest and ‘backroom’, completely anonymous in his homeland.

I thought it might be interesting to readers to learn about Norman, but in passing I can’t help but think that as we face up to the consequences of terrible decisionmaking in economic policy over the past 15 years or so, and how little evidence there is of clever thinking in economics within the Irish civil service, one of the most important figures in policy decision making and in creating the infrastructure for economics in Government in the UK system, was an Irish economist.   Knowing Norman, I suspect he would have found that funny too!

Skills Deficits

One of the things underpinning a lot of posts, notably Karl’s last one, is that there is an elephant in the living room here around the human capital available to deal with economic issues within the core Government Departments.  We know the tales of how there are no economists in the civil service.   What is badly needed is something like the Government Economic Service in the UK. This ensures two things – the presence of a cadre of professional economists within the sector, but also the harmonisation of the training across Departments giving a unity of approach regardless of the topic. Of course the development of PhD capacity in Ireland will help but that takes time – wondering aloud, should we as a body of economists not begin to work with the Government to develop a GES model for Ireland and also develop the training structures?


Thanks folks, for the comments.  I am going to stay out of the debate around constitutional crisis this would cause…..and just pick up some threads.  Cormac’s comment hits it well and he would know well from working at IFS in London what I mean.   The GES is NOT an new body accountable or otherwise – it is a training infrastructure for the civil service that ensures that economists are trained in a way that is consistent across the service regardless of their posting.  It also ensures that economists can move between Departments, be redeployed etc very easily and that economics has a core platform within the service.   Secondly, the issue is not creating new degrees etc but rather to work with the civil service to ensure that platform is in place.  Thirdly, there is both an immediate need for a small, highly skilled cohort now – perhaps this is the 10 or so that Brian L discusses – but the idea that we can continue with the lamentable lack of economics as a core discipline across all government departments needs to be tackled.   In effect health, education, environment and employment have no structured economics unit and to revert briefly to constitutional issues, to be relying on external ministerial advisors is worrying.   Finally, for sure this would need a change in how things work – the economics unit in the UK looks at EVERY piece of policy and proofs it against standard metrics.

Thanks again, folks, for the comments.


“High fliers”

No doubt we all noticed this article in today’s Irish Independent. Aside from the issue of whether great universities require great academics or great beurocrats (and the intriguing question of how come, in this trawl for world class talent, the people chosen are so often Irish), one needs to ask what price Irish universities need to pay to get great academics, assuming that they want them.

Presumably that price is falling rapidly, for several reasons. First, a little bit of googling suffices to make it clear that the academic job market is collapsing in the United States. The contributors to this blog will all be familiar with this AEA site listing cancelled or suspended job searches, and there are many more indicators available out there. Second, the high Irish property prices which were used as an excuse for high salaries are also collapsing.

And then there is the bigger picture. The state just can’t afford to pay enormous salaries any more. Moreover, there are obvious political considerations that can’t be ignored. Given that people at the bottom are going to see their net income fall, the case for a cap on all wages paid for in whole or in part by the taxpayer is becoming increasingly compelling. Many posts ago, I suggested a cap of 200K, but that now seems much too generous. 150K should be enough for anyone, and if people want to chance their luck on the national or international market places, good luck to them.